Career Best: Bruce Springsteen’s Best Albums

One of my favorite days so far this year was the day in May that I got to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. Vicky was unable to come due to a misunderstanding at the hotel with our dog, so I went by myself. Not the ideal situation, but it was the best we could do at the time. I sat next to a couple from New Jersey and a couple from Alabama. We all chatted about college football and where we were from and how many Springsteen concerts we had been to. But there wasn’t any chatting after the music started.

It was the best concert experience I’ve ever had. I wasn’t very close to the stage, but Springsteen and the E Street Band are experts at playing to a crowd. But it’s not just that they put on a good show. It has far more to do with my own personal relationship with his music and getting to spend 3 hours with a huge group of people celebrating everything great about it together.

It’s a shame Vicky couldn’t be there. You should share the things you love. That’s why I do these Career Best posts. I love Bruce Springsteen’s music, and I want to share it with you. Why only 6 albums? I dunno. He has 18 studio albums, so I divided that by 3. You’re getting one third of Springsteen’s entire oeuvre. Enjoy.springsteenalbums16. The River (1980): It’s easy to overlook The River, sandwiched between his classic ‘70s albums and his reinventing ‘80s records. But The River was a reinvention of its own, moving away from the wall of sound that characterized Born to Run and Darkness to a style more suitable to Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry. The River truly rocks, with Springsteen hitting his stride on upbeat paeans to young love such as “Fade Away” and “Sherry Darlin”. But, as a double album, The River has more than enough room for somber reflection in songs like “The River” and “Stolen Car”. This was Bruce Springsteen flexing and finding he had room to grow.

springsteenalbums25. Born in the U.S.A. (1984): This is when Springsteen “went commercial”, a phrase that is as nasty to Boss purists as “went electric” was at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. But it’s hogwash. The vast majority of Born in the U.S.A. is the same roots-driven rock Springsteen was churning out at a professional pace in the decade before Nebraska. There are only a few songs that bear the marks of the ‘80s: “Downbound Train”, which like his typical rock songs in every other way, is layered over subtle synths; “Dancing in the Dark” is Springsteen fully embracing the ‘80s’ worst trends and, in fact, redeeming them; and “I’m on Fire” dives into synth-pop to the point that it becomes a predecessor to shoegaze. No, just because Born in the U.S.A. sold millions of records doesn’t mean Springsteen “went commercial”. He grew into this record, and it caught on at precisely the right time.

springsteenalbums34. Nebraska (1982): The opening song of Nebraska is a tune called, fittingly, “Nebraska”, and after the utter bleakness on that track, you’re ready for Dust-Bowl-level sparse on the rest of the album. That isn’t quite the case. There are several songs that have at least a modicum of upbeat in them, like the relatively rollicking “Atlantic City” and the somewhat rocking “Open All Night” and…okay, you’re right. Every song is pretty depressing. But Springsteen reached an authenticity on Nebraska that he’s never since come close to replicating.

springsteenalbums43. Wrecking Ball (2012): Arguably the best of the Boss’s later albums. After a slump in the 1990s, Springsteen rediscovered his roots on The Rising and on folk-based albums Devils & Dust and We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Session. Since then, he has not been shy about the causes his albums are stumping for. Magic was an indictment of the Bush era, Working on a Dream was an optimist’s boasting after Obama’s election, and Wrecking Ball is the comedown record set in our economy’s dog years. It’s also the strongest since the ‘80s, mixing every style he’d attempted since The Rising and trying some new things, some of which worked (Irish drinking songs!) and some which didn’t really work at all (Hip-hop!). But he maintains a consistent hopefulness in the face of the economic recession he knew was plaguing his fans, even while encouraging a patented defiance.

springsteenalbums52. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978): It’s unfair that Darkness had to come after Born to Run. When you come out of the gate at such a lightning-fast pace, it’s going to be hard to maintain. But Springsteen and his E Street Band made up for it by doubling down on their sweeping aesthetic of hard rock mixed with story songs to create what is essentially Born to Run’s sequel and nearly its equal. If it doesn’t reach quite the emotional heights as Born to Run, we can chalk it up to chance. I mean, what are the odds you make two iconic records in a row? As it turned out, in the late 1970s, Springsteen beat the odds.

springsteenalbums61. Born to Run (1975): Born to Run isn’t Bruce Springsteen’s debut, but it feels way more like a statement of identity than the two albums before it. Early in his career, Springsteen wrote with a lot of specificity about Jersey, but his songs never made their rough-and-tumble nature seem anything but universal. If falling in love was like “She’s the One” in New Jersey, it was just as raw and potent everywhere else in America. If adolescence was like “Jungleland” in New Jersey, it was just as fraught and melodramatic everywhere else in America. And if the average youth in Jersey can feel as much hope for the future as “Born to Run”, so could the average youth anywhere else in America. Springsteen and the E Street Band took each of their skills to the limit to create that super-Spectorized sound that many have tried to imitate since then, the sound that came to be synonymous with growing up and trying to make good. Springsteen had already made good in 1975, but Born to Run stood for everyone who hadn’t.

Career Best: Bruce Springsteen’s Best Songs

Career Best is a feature in which I look back on the career of one of my favorite artists and walk through their best albums and songs. This week we’re taking a long look at the Boss.

25. “Dancing in the Dark”: I used to hate this song, and if I didn’t hate it, I at least thought it was among the Boss’s most overrated singles. But this perfect, synth-driven anthem to finding someone, anyone in between night shifts has grown on me. The incredible, ‘80s-defining video helps- a lot (in the link above).

24. “Blinded by the Light”: This song has found most of its popularity from the cover by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which, incidentally, is also the version where it sounds like they say “revved up like a douche” instead of “revved up like a deuce”, so make of that what you will. The Springsteen version (which is the original, thank you very much) sounds about as different as you’d expect, more stripped down and rambling, which was typical of his early music. I still to this day have no earthly idea what the lyrics mean, but the chaos Springsteen weaves with his random words is somehow intoxicating.

23. “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”: The most brilliant version of this song is the Jackson 5 cover, but there’s a special place in my three-sizes-too-small heart for Springsteen’s version. It’s got something to do with Springsteen being unable to contain his merriment at Clarence Clemons’s Santa laugh. The joy in this song is contagious, and it’s made all the more enjoyable when you realize it was recorded in 1975, early in Springsteen’s career, and the E Street Band sounds like they’re already in peak form.

22. “Glory Days”: It’s easy to look back at Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. days as the moment he left rock music behind and went all in on ‘80s overproduction and high hats and synths. And it’s not totally off, but there’s something glorious about Roy Bittan’s keyboard synths on “Glory Days”. The chords don’t come out perfect on every play, reminding you that there’s a human back there playing them, and setting a fitting backdrop for an ode to the washed up, middle-age people who are the backbone of our country.

21. “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)”: If The River was meant to be a mix of solemn songs and songs that celebrate the joy of rock n’ roll, it’s a tragedy that “From Small Things” was left off. Few songs capture the joy in rock better than this one. The story is classic Springsteen, but maybe this would have been better off on Nebraska rather than The River, because the main character ends up being pretty twisted.

20. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”: Hands down one of the most gorgeous songs Springsteen recorded. I suppose this could come off a bit creepy, but “Girls” instead sounds like a loving ode to the enjoyment of the female figure. I don’t think I made it sound any less creepy with that sentence, but give it a listen; Springsteen makes it far more about the passage of time than a man’s lust.

19. “I’m on Fire”: If you had to guess the most-covered Bruce Springsteen song, would “I’m on Fire” have even been in your top 5? It’s been redone at least 21 times, which is 12 more than the next tune. Artists from Tori Amos to Kenny Chesney to Chromatics have recorded this song, but the best version still belongs to the Boss.

18. “The Promised Land”: This was Springsteen at the peak of his powers, when even throwaway tracks could tear into your heart. It includes one of his favorite themes, the hope of the American dream clashing with American realities. It also includes one of the great Big Man solos, in the top five at least.

17. “Wrecking Ball”: “Wrecking Ball” is good enough to make me forget that it’s a song celebrating the stadium of the New York Giants. It (strangely effectively) doubles as a song about new beginnings. The defiance in “Wrecking Ball” has become a theme for Springsteen recently, as if Springsteen is warding off the haters who accuse him of phoniness.

16. “Stolen Car”: Springsteen does quietness better than any other rock star or group. For him, it’s not just about a different modulation; the quiet becomes him. On “Stolen Car”, his voice being barely above a whisper is a sign of his resignation that nothing about his life is going to change.

16. “Backstreets”: And we’ve finally reached our first Born to Run track! Who knows if Springsteen ever really knew what it was like to live his life hustling on the streets? Probably whoever wrote or has read his biography, but I haven’t, so I just have songs like this to utterly and completely convince me.

14. “The Rising”: “My City of Ruins” was the song that best encapsulated the post-9/11 mindset of New York, but “The Rising” was the nation’s. The imagery was powerful and intoxicating, this picture of pulling ourselves up out of the mire together. But it’s not just about the rising; Springsteen gave us a picture of the light we were rising to.

13. “She’s the One”: Hope you like Born to Run, because there’s a lot of it on this list. “She’s the One” isn’t about love at first sight, or even about pining away for some girl who fits your image of the ideal woman. “She’s the One” is the moment you decide to do something about it.

12. “The Wrestler”: Springsteen honed his Pete Seeger folk chops on albums like Devils & Dust and We Shall Overcome, and “The Wrestler” is the best version of that version of the Boss. Describing a character using powerful metaphors is one thing, but Springsteen sings as the man describing himself with such despondent images. This man is aware that he’s not worth much to the world, and fewer things cut closer to the bone.

11. “Nebraska”: Some of the finest harmonica ever put to vinyl. “Nebraska” is the centerpiece of the spare album Nebraska, and as such it enjoys the sparest of production. The song would float off into the wind, if it weren’t for the singer’s insistence that he doesn’t have a reason for why he killed that man, just that there’s a certain amount of unexplainable evil in the world.

springsteensongs110. “Land of Hope and Dreams”: Opening with a gospel choir would seem an admission of irrelevance on any other classic rock artist’s song. For Springsteen, though, it’s just one brushstroke on a vast canvas. Most of the rest of the songs on this list boast specificity as one of their defining qualities. “Land of Hope and Dreams” is huge and broad in scope as Springsteen invites sinners of all kinds to join him on the train to heaven. I can’t speak for where Springsteen’s heart is when it comes to the finer points of reformed theology, but, regardless, this is a pretty accurate assessment of what the elect will look like: just a bunch of ragamuffins.

springsteensongs29. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”: There was a point in my college career when I dated someone whose parents were not my biggest fans. I’ll admit that at the time I wasn’t the best boyfriend to their daughter, but I often leaned on “Rosalita” when it seemed like the deck was stacked against me. For me, it captured what it meant to be in love and to feel like it was you and your significant other against the world. Listening to “Rosalita” now, at my wisened age of 25, Springsteen sounds like a guy who’s undoubtedly immature, but he also sounds like a guy who one day may rule the world. Maybe Rosie’s parents should have given him the benefit of the doubt.

springsteensongs38. “Atlantic City”: For some reason, I had this idea of “Atlantic City” in my head as one of Bruce Springsteen’s overproduced, late ’80s songs, even though it’s on Nebraska. It doesn’t quite have the emptiness of “Nebraska”, but it’s still a song with a hole in its heart. There’s definitely a pop song somewhere on the edges of “Atlantic City”, and maybe if someone else had this song, they would’ve taken that chorus and made it more upbeat, along the lines of “Hungry Heart”. But in Springsteen’s voice, with the layered, ghostly harmony, “Atlantic City” is a lament.

springsteensongs47. “Long Walk Home”: Magic basically ensured that Bruce Springsteen would forever be appreciated by liberals, if Born in the U.S.A. hadn’t accomplished that 20 years prior. The album is a thinly veiled invective against the Bush administration. Seen in retrospect, it plays a little more subtly, especially since Springsteen’s tone hasn’t changed much since then, implying that the same problems we had then as a country are still in place today. “Long Walk Home” is the best argument for this, both a warning and a celebration. A warning that the way to a better country will be arduous, and a celebration that if any country can do it, it’s this one.

springsteensongs56. “The River”: It’s amazing I ever got married after listening to “The River”. This song has haunted me since high school. Springsteen has plenty of songs just like this one about marriages that lose their spark, but none have anything that pierce so quickly to the heart as the opening harmonica or the eerie chorus or the unforgettable line, “Now I act like I don’t remember / Mary act like she don’t care.” I did get married, though, so I obviously know “The River” isn’t the ultimate end for every marriage. And Springsteen knows that too, since he’s also married, but I will say that it would be surprising if you could listen to this song and not think of a marriage in your life that it reminds you of. Powerful stuff.

springsteensongs65. “Born in the U.S.A.”: Probably Bruce Springsteen’s most recognizable song, with the possible exception of “Dancing in the Dark”. Even the most pop-culture-ignorant person has heard the rousing chorus. It’s incredible that “Born in the U.S.A.” survived its run on the charts and its misuse by nearly every pseudo-patriotic politician to remain one of the best rock singles ever. By now, the song’s misunderstood nature is well-documented: written as an anti-Vietnam screed and as an ode to veterans and their struggles, the song has been blindly appropriated by different groups over and over again as an anthem. If you listen to the lyrics, only veterans could use this as an anthem. For the rest of us, “Born in the U.S.A.” is a reminder of the complexities of our nation’s history.

springsteensongs74. “Jungleland”: The E Street Band deserves much of the credit for reorienting popular music’s use of instruments beyond guitar, bass, and drums. “Jungleland” may be the song most responsible. It opens with an indelible violin solo, transitions into one of the most memorable piano riffs of the ‘70s, and climaxes with the most famous saxophone part in all of rock music. Forgive all my superlatives- you’ll understand when you listen. Every song on Born to Run is an epic story, but “Jungleland” is the epic story to end all epic stories. It’s hardly one of Springsteen’s more specific stories; instead, he opts for broad images of kids trying to make it out of the war zone that is adolescence. He uses every weapon at his disposal to get that feeling across. This is the E Street Band’s finest moment.

springsteensongs83. “Darkness on the Edge of Town”: The opening piano riff gives you the idea that this is going to be an R&B song in the style of Dusty Springfield or the Staples Singers. That funkiness hangs out around the core of “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, giving an edge to the chorus when Springsteen lets out his raspy howl. It’s another sad song disguised as a happy one, though maybe it’s time to stop trying to differentiate between sad and happy. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” does have a certain bleakness, dealing with broken dreams hiding in regular American towns. But the music doesn’t let you slip into a depression about it. It is what it is, and we’ll go on living.

springsteensongs72. “Thunder Road”: 10 appreciations.
10) The reference to Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”.
9) That piano gets louder through the first verse- how often to you actually hear instrumentation crescendo like that anymore in pop music? It’s more immediate when it sounds live.
8) He wants her to go with him to “case the promised land.” Perfect line.
7) It ends with the line “It’s a town full of losers / And I’m pulling out of here to win”, which is a pretty succinct summary of every kid’s mindset when he/she leaves home for the first time.
6) I can’t tell if Springsteen is writing from the perspective of an older man or from the perspective of a young man who thinks he’s getting old. Like someone around the age of 25 who is still in the college mindset that anything above 22 is old.
5) That harmonica is the opening to my favorite album ever, and it never fails to excite me.
4) The second-greatest sax part in all rock music at the sprawling coda.
3) He had help from Elton and Billy, but Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” made piano rock cool.
2) When Springsteen tells her, “You ain’t a beauty, but, eh, you’re alright.”
1) The command to roll down the window to feel the wind, cementing this as the all-time greatest driving song.

springsteensongs91. “Born to Run”: It’s hard to write about my favorite song. I mean, I know you’re not going to love it as much as I do (unless you already do), and nothing I write is going to convince you to make it your favorite song. You don’t adopt anything as your favorite anything because you read something. It’s usually a lot more organic than that. I don’t have a story for why “Born to Run” is my favorite song- not just my favorite Bruce Springsteen song, but my favorite song period. Some people have reasons, I guess, for why they have a favorite song, some connection to their dad or an association with a cherished memory. I don’t have any of that. But I could write about 100 appreciations for “Born to Run” like the ones I wrote above for “Thunder Road”. I could list for you all the times I’ve been stressed out or down on myself or burnt out and listening to “Born to Run” reminded me of the hope that I have, the drive to live a full life. Even though my wife probably hates this song (I’m not sure there’s a Bruce Springsteen song she likes), I could point you to all the passionate lines in “Born to Run” that I look to as inspiration for how to love her well. I don’t consider myself a “tramp”, I couldn’t care less about cars, and I’ve never loved a girl named Wendy. But I have felt like a town is a “death trap”, and that I had to get out. I have enjoyed a kiss so much that I felt like I could die happy if it never ended. And I know what it’s like to long for someplace better, “that place where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun.”

Song of the Hour: “Wait for Me Virginia” by Hollis Brown


‘Wait for Me Virginia’ is really three songs within one. Brown begins the song singing from the perspective of a convict on the run, imploring his wife and kid to wait for him. Next, he takes on a persona ostensibly more close to his heart, that of a musician on tour, lamenting that his girl has to wait for him. Finally, Brown sings as a soldier in the Middle East, counting down the days until his wife doesn’t have to wait for him anymore. The verses are short, the chorus is simple, but the effect is powerful.

Quick Take: August: Osage County (2013)

augustosagecountyBy all accounts, Tracy Letts’s play August: Osage County is worthy of all the accolades it received (see: Prize, Pulitzer and Award, Tony). By many of the same accounts, John Wells’s movie August: Osage County is an odious, pretentious  piece of trash. I haven’t seen the play, but it has to be better than this movie. The cast shines, even when they chew the scenery, because why wouldn’t you want to watch Meryl Streep, Margo Martindale, and an unprecedented Julia Roberts tear the Oklahoma set to pieces? But the movie they’re surrounded by doesn’t feel real. For one, this is obviously everyone’s first time to Oklahoma, because they seem to think Oklahomans are cartoon characters and don’t talk like real human beings, especially not about the weather or Native Americans. And also, the way the plot is revealed is contrived, which probably plays better in a quiet theater than a noisy movie.

Quicker take: “Oklahoma sure is a messed up place.” -Hollywood

September’s Notable Music

Hits

october1Hiss Golden Messenger, Lateness of Dancers: I have a vision of the future every now and again. It’s hazy, but I have faith in it. Someday, the clubbers and sorority girls will no longer dance to electronic music or hip-hop. Such over-produced tripe will have faded away along with the con artists who peddle it to the masses. No, in this future I see, the people will dance to folk music, glorious folk music. They will rediscover the instruments that first brought them music: the hallowed guitar and the sacred piano, accompanied by a chorus of percussive instruments. Yes, folk dance music is the future. FDM, we’ll call it. And Lateness of Dancers is the first of many heralds.

october2Lecrae, Anomaly: So far, Lecrae is the most well-known Christian rapper to the general public, and we should thank God it’s him for a lot of reasons. His albums consistently present the gospel clearly and passionately while remaining accessible and relatable to unbelievers. He’s on the forefront of the music side of things, drawing from his hip-hop heroes but constantly forging his own path ahead, refusing to submit to the whims of the industry. And he hangs out with mainstream rappers; this may be the most important reason of all, because it’s a template for how people who don’t rap for a living should treat their own lives. Lecrae has gotten flak for spending time around people like Kendrick Lamar or Big K.R.I.T. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that Jesus had the same charges brought against him for spending time around sinners. Anomaly is one more step on the narrow path God has for Lecrae, and he’s walking on it brilliantly.

october3Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams: It can be hard to draw a through-line from one Ryan Adams album to the next. His chameleonic nature has drawn accusations of fakery and phoniness for almost his entire career. I’m sure his marriage to a pop singer like Mandy Moore does nothing for his reputation among indie purists. But, for what it’s worth, my personal experience with Ryan Adams has been with his quieter, folk-rock side, and in that light, his new, self-titled album is his most purely rocking album to date. That’s not including the unfortunate metal EP Adams also released last month, but for my purposes Ryan Adams is the kind of classicized rock music only a dynamic personality like Adams could make.

Misses

october4Robert Plant, Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar: Like, Robert Plant was in this band, Led Zeppelin, back in the day. And, like, they made real rock music. But he’s, like, so totally over making real rock music, because, like, rock music doesn’t really get at the heart of what music is really about, you know? So he did, like, folk music for a while, but it wasn’t real enough for him? So he’s exploring world music now, and I think he’s really found himself, like, in ways that you just can’t in rock music or music with that lady from the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. He’s expanding his horizons, man, and, well, I don’t really get it, but it’s just because he’s on a whole other level, you know? Because he’s Robert Plant? You know?

october5U2, Songs of Innocence: I can’t defend them anymore. You could argue that their early catalog is justification enough for their misguided latter days, and you’d be right. But in the here and now, as far removed from Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby as we are, U2 are insufferable. I’m not yet to the point where I want to barf when I think of Bono and his sunglasses, but something in my stomach definitely stirs. There are moments on Songs of Innocence with hints of the great music of their past, and there are other moments with only hints of music. None of it is worth what you have to pay for it. (Yes, I know.)

Under the Radar

october6Hazakim, Son of Man: This may not be the most high-profile Christian rap release of September, but Son of Man isn’t messing around. Hazakim is a duo of brothers with a background in the Messianic Jewish movement, and the Jewish influence is apparent in strong focus on the Old Testament and several songs that make use of Hebrew. (Or Yiddish. I freely admit I don’t know the difference.) They also fall under the tradition of their label, Lamp Mode Recordings, filled with artists with a bent toward intellectual hip-hop that seeks to explicate Scripture. Shai Linne is the most well-known of their artists, but Hazakim deserve their place alongside him.

october7Joan Shelley, Electric Ursa: Electric Ursa is the definition of “under the radar”. A slight album that threatens to float away if you don’t pay enough attention to it, Ursa is folk music at its most gorgeous. There seems to be this idea that folk music is all acoustic instruments and simple lyrics, that “folk” is a costume you can put on. Shelley’s music calls bullshit on that with the heavy layers in her production and her haunting, evocative lyrics. This is the perfect record for the onset of autumn.

Quick Take: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

hunchbackLike Anastasia a year later, Hunchback has a strong story that is done in by ’90s animation’s insistence upon cutesiness. Luckily the talking and singing gargoyles take a backseat to most of the action, and their one song is actually pretty fun. That’s part of the problem though; Hunchback already had plenty of fun with the devilish Clopin, and the brand of silliness the gargoyles bring to the table doesn’t mesh with the darkness hovering over the rest of the plot. With strong characters like Quasimodo, Esmerelda, and Phoebus, all of whom offered plenty of comic relief on their own, and a great villain in Judge Frollo, your movie can stand on its own. If Disney had taken some cues from their earlier films, they might have realized that children can handle a little darkness in their movies. That being said, the story and animation are enough to catapult this movie over those gargoyles to qualify it as a Disney classic.

Quicker take: If you want gargoyles, see Gargoyles. If you want to be moved, see Hunchback.

Song of the Hour: ‘Saturday’s Song’ by Hiss Golden Messenger

If you’ve followed M.C. Taylor’s music for any length of time, you know that he doesn’t really do happiness. Joy, perhaps, but never happiness. For example, the best song from last year’s Haw was called ‘Sufferer’. ‘Saturday’s Song’ announces a shift in Taylor’s aesthetic away from the spare, contemplative affairs his songs have been. ‘Saturday’s Song’ isn’t a banger, per se, but the buoyant guitar and Taylor’s (dare I say) whimsy are infectious. If Saturday to you is a day of rest, a day of sitting back and basking in your family or the outdoors or college football, a day of imbibing (responsibly, though perhaps Taylor isn’t singing about the responsible side of drinking), then Hiss Golden Messenger is here to help you enjoy it to the fullest.

Quick Take: The Square (2013)

Tahrir SquareDocumentaries tend to tell stories that have already happened. So a documentary that brings you into the middle of an ongoing story is a welcome change, especially when that story is one as inflammatory as the ongoing revolution in Egypt. When The Square was released in the U.S. in mid-October of last year, much of what it depicted had yet to be resolved, and this still holds true today. Egyptian director Jehane Noujaim follows several participants in the revolution that began in the titular Tahrir Square in Cairo: the famous Egyptian actor, Khalid Abdalla (United 93The Kite Runner), who uses his clout to generate publicity and support for the grassroots revolution; Ahmed and Aida, two students who are among the most vocal of the revolutionaries; and Magdy, who is in support of the revolution, but whose allegiances ultimately lie with the Muslim Brotherhood, an ancillary organization whose motives are less than clear. The Square‘s occasionally fractured structure gives you the impression that you’re in the middle of the action, giving this hugely important event all the immediacy it deserves.

Quicker take: If ‘Fight the Power’ were a movie, and in Arabic.

Trailer of the Hour: Inherent Vice

Tough week for trailers this week- BECAUSE THERE WERE SO MANY GREAT ONES. InterstellarTak3n, American Sniper, etc. It was hard to choose which one to write about. I could do five of these posts today and still have more to write. But we’ve all got work to do, so I’ll go with the movie that will likely remain under the radar for mainstream audiences. Paul Thomas Anderson directed this movie, based on a book by Thomas Pynchon, who is apparently a “big deal”. I’ve never read any of his books, but I’ve seen PTA movies, so how else could I feel but excited before watching this trailer? After watching it, , I’m convince this is the best trailer of the year, for several reasons. 1) Joaquin Phoenix’s mutton chops. 2) The deadpan humor mixed with pratfalls, reminiscent of the Coen brothers in Lebowski form. 3) Josh Brolin yelling “Moto pancaku” over and over, my new catchphrase. 4) The incredible cast. 5) Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful”, which should be included in all trailers from now on.

Quick Take: Patch Adams (1998)

patchadamsKnowing Patch Adams is based on a true story has both a positive and a negative effect on your perception of the movie. On one hand, it lends credence to a truly heartwarming life story and a nicely modulated Robin Williams (R.I.P.) performance. But on the other hand, you can’t help but notice the corners the screenwriters cut with the details to fit Adams’s story into a mainstream, feel-good movie. Also, I assume Adams’s real life has not been soundtracked with a pushy score of treacly piano and strings.

Quicker take: There’s enough here to make this a worthy choice for those seeking a little Robin Williams.